Well, that depends. Interestingly, there are 3 tradition ways to become a registered nurse. Which path you take depends on a number of variables. Your decision will likely be influenced by your location, your willingness to move, your financial resources, and your career aspirations. The duration of the program may also impact your decision.
The three traditional ways that a person can become a registered nurse are as follows:
- Diploma in Nursing
- Two-year Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN)
- Four-year Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN)
A three year diploma program in nursing is the oldest form of nursing education. At one-time all nurses in the United States were diploma nurses. Although once these programs were the most common route to becoming a registered nurse they are now rare and continue to decrease. These programs are hospital based and the nurses in the program work in the hospital as part of their training. If finances are an issue this type of program may be a consideration. Most diploma programs are less expensive than ADN or BSN programs.
Two-year Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) programs are introductory nursing programs. They are typically offered by community colleges. Affordability is one of the attractions to this type of program. In-state tuition and not living in a dormitory can help to keep tuition reasonable. Being able to complete the program in two years and begin working as a registered nurse also makes this an attractive option. This educational preparation will prepare you for entry level nursing positions
Four-year Bachelor of Science Degree in Nursing (BSN) programs offer comprehensive training for entering the profession of nursing. These programs focus on more advanced nursing methodology, clinical training, and exposure to a wider variety of subjects when compared to lower level degree and diploma programs. They also concentrate on developing critical thinking, administrative, communication, problem solving, research, and leadership skills. Additional topics covered may include healthcare economics, health information, and healthcare policy. These programs are designed to result in a more in-depth consideration of the cultural, economic, and social issues that are faced by patient and their influences on the healthcare delivery system.
Nurses attending these programs have more options in the nursing field to choose from upon graduation such as public health nursing and school nursing. In many situations, having a BSN is necessary to eventually advance into a senior nursing position. Some certification processes also require that nurses have a BSN to apply for certification such as Certified Case Manager.
A BSN degree is often pursed later by nurses who have diploma or associate degrees. A register nurse who is already licensed may even take an accelerated program to obtain their BSN.
All nurses regardless of their educational preparation take National Council Licensure Examination. For those prepared as registered nurses, they will take the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN).
There is an additional non-traditional program that is available. This is the 2nd baccalaureate program offering a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN). This program is for those with a bachelor degree in a non-nursing program who would like to have a BSN degree. It is an accelerated baccalaureate program for non-nursing degreed students. The benefit of this program is that it is designed to be completed more rapidly than the typical BSN program because these students already hold bachelor’s degrees in another discipline.
In summary, obtaining an associate degree is less expensive than obtaining a bachelor’s degree. However, associate degree nurses are not able to complete for the same jobs as a bachelor degree. An associate degree will be more expensive than getting a nursing diploma, but the nurse with the diploma may have a less secure job future. In my opinion, it is best to obtain the highest level of degree you can afford, or at least be prepared to further your education as time and money allow.
In my next blog I will discuss the trend toward the Bachelor of Science in Nursing becoming the entry level for nursing and the push toward higher levels of education such as the Master’s Degree in Nursing.